If you’ve ever attended a meeting of the Los Angeles City Council it’s very likely that you’ve seen one of the fully scripted performances that pass for debate with that body, ending, as always, with a unanimous vote in favor of yet another preordained conclusion. It’s a sickening spectacle, more worthy of a for-show-only parliament of some backwater bargain-bin Ruritanian dictatorship than of the legislators who are putatively leading our great City. This phenomenon is the subject of much discussion here in Los Angeles, and was the basis for at least one sadly ill-fated lawsuit.
If you haven’t seen an example of this spooky kabuki, you can take a look at this August 23, 2016 debate on whether the City should support or oppose some state bill about taxi regulation.1 After the break you’ll find a detailed chronology with links into the video, which will save you a lot of time because the whole thing is more than 30 minutes long and it is mind-numbing. There’s no conceivable way that episodes like this one could happen other than through prior discussion, collusion, and agreement among the Councilmembers. It’s completely implausible that it could be otherwise.
The problem with that, of course, is that prior discussion, collusion, and agreement among Councilmembers are illegal in California. It’s even illegal for Council staffers to discuss things and then report back to their bosses about other CMs’ opinions as reported by their respective staffs. The law mandates real public debates and forbids scripted performances whose conclusions are predetermined in back rooms. In particular, the Brown Act at §54952.2(b)(1) states explicitly that:
A majority of the members of a legislative body shall not, outside a meeting authorized by this chapter, use a series of communications of any kind, directly or through intermediaries, to discuss, deliberate, or take action on any item of business that is within the subject matter jurisdiction of the legislative body.
As far as I know there’s never been a successful Brown Act complaint against the City Council on these grounds. Courts will not, I’m under the impression, accept arguments based on the fact that it’s totally obvious what’s going on. Without sufficient proof of out-of-meeting communications no action is possible. And there just has not hitherto been any proof to be found, or none that I know of. But it appears that, buried deep within the recent release of emails from Mitch O’Farrell’s toppest secretest privatest email account, there are some hints of how this coordination might be accomplished.
There’s no proof there of a Brown Act violation, but there’s evidence that in 2013 David Giron, who is Mitch O’Farrell’s legislative director, coordinated with CD5 and CD8 regarding the positions of Paul Koretz and Bernard Parks2 with respect to fracking in Los Angeles and then communicated the intentions of those other CMs to Mitch O’Farrell. This is the kind of thing that the Brown Act forbids if it takes place among the majority of the Council, or even the majority of a Council committee.3
There’s no hint in the evidence that this discussion is any kind of anomaly, so it may be the first piece of the puzzle of how the City Council builds consensus out of view of the public. It certainly gives me hope that the truth will be brought out eventually.4 Take a look at the email exchange here, which is on the surface about Mitch O’Farrell’s position on CF 13-0002-S108, having to do with a State Senate bill on fracking. There are transcriptions and detailed discussion of the issues involved right after the break.
Continue reading Mitch O’Farrell’s Secret Email Account Yields The First Concrete Evidence I’m Aware Of Concerning Staff-Mediated Back-Room Collusion Between City Council Members — Suggests Brown Act Violations On A Massive Scale — Consistent With Serial Meetings Coordinated Via Council Staff — Contributes To A Theory Of Staged City Council Debates Invariably Ending In Yet Another Unanimous Vote — At Very Least Yields Many Potentially Fruitful Leads For Future CPRA Requests